Safety Training Gets Wired

All things considered, Web-based safety training may be the most efficient and effective way to deliver safety training. Here's why.

The Internet revolution not only has changed the way the world views electronic commerce, or e-commerce, but also e-learning at all levels. While some safety professionals view the Internet and Web-based training (WBT) as a threat to classroom-style training, many see this innovative technology as a major opportunity and resource to strengthen their existing safety training programs by enhancing delivery modes and increasing both management and employee learning capabilities. They believe the Internet is the "gateway to the training future," thereby providing better injury prevention and regulatory compliance knowledge to all associates, while reducing incident rates and workers' compensation costs.

Safety professionals have been struggling with organizational training issues for many years. We design safety compliance and prevention training processes that typically include a pretest, learning objectives, overheads that an instructor will present, a video or two, a question-and-answer session with a learning exercise, and a post-test with participant training documentation. Such training modules vary in length and format, but the real challenges for safety professionals are to:

1. Ensure that training materials are delivered with quality and consistency,

2. Update and adjust the safety training content to ensure it is accurate and not outdated,

3. Assign safety training programs and frequency of training to all associates by specific job function,

4. Track and document the training from a central site, and

5. Reduce overall training costs.

An answer for safety professionals in meeting these challenges is to create high-quality, Web-based safety training (WBST). Subject-matter experts (in academic or industrial environments) can partner with information-technology experts within the same organization or in an external organization (such as a WBST company) to create curricula of value that meet these five challenges. WBST can bring existing safety, health and environmental training programs to life with the reliability and speed of the Internet.

The safety department of an organization often has its hands full overseeing and managing training records for a diverse and dispersed group of employees. There are issues with regard to multiple-location compliance requirements, inconsistency in training for all shifts of employees, diverse backgrounds of trainees and difficulty in tracking this training, especially considering turnover of employees in a highly mobile work force. In many large organizations with multiple locations, there are numerous processes and pieces of equipment that require safety training. WBST can provide safety and training professionals the ability to deliver safety, health and environmental training with quality, flexibility and consistency. It can facilitate tracking and accurate records.

There can be poor training on the Web, just as is true in the classroom. A single, excellent course built on sound principles of instructional design, however, can achieve more widespread benefit through interactive electronic delivery than through single, live deliveries. The following are some key WBST concepts to consider when designing, writing and delivering training, and when choosing a WBST partner.

Tracking

Transitioning a safety training program to the Internet begins by evaluating a company's training methods. Typically, there are tracking problems. Attempting to coordinate training records of many locations or departments can be quite an administrative burden. It is enough of a challenge to log the records of employees who attended the training without adding the turnover and promotion rates and determining who has not attended training due to sickness, vacation time and the like. The process could take literally hundreds of hours each year depending on the organization.

A WBST program can be a training administrator's dream. Having only one Internet site that has all the administrative software is the key. As each trainee logs onto the site, he or she provides identifying information, takes the pretest and accesses the appropriate objectives, text material and learning activities. When finished with reading and doing the learning activities, the post-test is available. Log-off ends the session.

Precise tracking records can be kept on all training activities, including who has trained, how much time they spent training, what topics they've trained on, results of learning activities and what their test scores are. Again, because this is a Web site, it is just as easy to keep records on Phoenix employees as it is with Boston employees. Never before have safety professionals been able to get their arms around an entire work force at such reasonable costs. Thanks to Internet technology, safety managers can monitor thousands of employees from their desktops and generate organizationwide reports from one resource.

Accessibility

Who among us hasn't wished for more hours in a day? For most organizations, more hours mean training third-shift employees on their schedules vs. corralling them into a Saturday-morning meeting requiring compensation with overtime pay. It means training newly hired and promoted employees immediately and having them start working sooner, as opposed to having them sit for hours in a room waiting for an instructor or, worse, letting them work for a week until enough new and promoted employees are in the system before group classroom-style training can be justified. WBST means that training is available wherever Internet-connected computers are available, an invaluable asset in terms of safety and operational excellence.

The accessibility of WBST is a major factor when a safety professional decides to enhance the safety-training program and incorporate e-learning. All day, every day, employees can log on and learn. You don't have to install special software or dedicate computer memory to software programs. Say goodbye to CD-ROMs and floppy disks. Say hello to own-place, own-pace training.

Effectiveness

As impressive as the numbers are, employees do not live by The Bottom Line alone. What good does it do to lower the costs of delivering your training if you also are lowering the quality of the training? The effectiveness of classroom-style training vs. WBST must come under scrutiny. In Brandon Hall's Web-Based Training Cookbook (John Wiley & Sons, 1997), he cites research indicating that employees who study at their pace in computer-based training achieve an equal or higher quality of learning over traditional instruction (Hall, 1997).

Do you really know how effective your training is? Like many training programs, you probably test employees after each training session and can measure understanding through their test scores. But do you measure retention? How long do your employees remember their training? Do you retest them six months after a particular course to determine this? If your program is anything like most training programs, who has the time and can manage the logistics?

By utilizing pretesting and post-testing capabilities of WBST, organizations can design a workable Learning Index, or comparison of post-test to pretest scores. The pretesting portion serves two functions:

1. Trainees may be allowed to "test out" of a training course if they display an extremely thorough knowledge of a subject. Testing out of a course allows you to conclude that previous training has been highly effective for this individual because it has been retained. Pretesting is more beneficial in terms of required annual refresher courses. For example, if a trainee correctly answers every question regarding hazcom, why proceed to take the refresher training? With WBST, he could just go to the next assigned lesson or log off and notify the administrator.

2. The pretest gives a baseline to which all additional acquired knowledge can be compared. If an employee scores 30 percent on a pretest, then all future improvement to that score allows you to evaluate the effectiveness of the training program.

The Learning Index is not complete without a post-test. Post-tests allow you to compare results to pretest scores and rate the effectiveness of the program. For example, if an employee scores 30 percent on the pretest and 90 percent on the post-test, the Learning Index would be 60 percent. Through such a Learning Index, the acquisition by each trainee for each topic can be assessed through these testing capabilities.

You can assess the continuing effectiveness of the training through a Retention Index. For instance, if a given trainee's post-test score was 90 percent and six months later was 80 percent on the retention test, the Retention Index would be negative 10 percent. This would indicate that only 10 percent was lost during the half year from the end of training to the retention assessment. Retention levels can be used to determine and justify the frequency of training or identify areas of the initial training that need to be enhanced to achieve desirable retention levels.

WBST may be designed on an annual basis whereby an organization uploads all training information for a 12-month period at one time. Through an annually designed WBST, these post-tests can be easily assigned to trainees not only immediately after the training session, but also four, six or nine months later to determine retention levels. Leveraging technology to establish an overall Learning Index and an overall Retention Index allows the training manager to determine training effectiveness and, to the extent necessary, revise training accordingly.

Flexibility

Good WBST Web sites are structured with the idea that people take vacations and sick days, get promoted and are added to our work force regularly. By designing an annual training program and administering it via the Internet, frontline supervisors spend much less time trying to figure out who missed training, who needs additional training and when they can complete it. Also, most corporations hire one to three employees at a time, which does not warrant the cost of a full-time instructor. WBST can help. Furthermore, most operations can pull one or two employees off the production floor for safety training, but they cannot pull 10 or 15 without negatively impacting productivity. Therefore, many times the safety training never gets done. Again, WBST provides the flexibility to help.

WBST not only allows safety professionals to complete these tasks, but also to quickly and easily modify training topics. Programs can be structured to deliver exactly the training each employee needs according to job function and skill set. Thus, there is little, if any, time spent on training that does not pertain to each worker's daily operations. Safety professionals are now able to transform job safety analyses (JSAs) into workable training curricula. With simple digital photography and audio PowerPoint presentations, safety professionals can bring their boring JSAs to life, thereby providing enhanced injury prevention training to the employee. After working with WBST, it will not take a safety professional very long to create many innovative delivery ideas to enhance new or existing safety training programs. The information highway is open, and the speed limit is up to you.

Depending on the company, timesaving dollars that should result from these features are an estimated 30 percent to 40 percent over the standard 12 hours of safety training that many companies budget for annually. Not only should productivity increase due to more effective training sessions, but the time safety professionals will inherit by the flexibility of managing an entire program online can now be used to further enhance their curriculum or other areas of a safety program. More time can be spent reinforcing safety awareness and implementing behavioral safety initiatives.

Development and Deployment

After weighing the above, the choice depends on your company's corporate mission and its commitment to safety. A company must be able to see the benefit of technology and desire to be a leader in effective training. The beauty of WBST is that it is an innovative delivery vehicle that can easily repurpose existing safety training content. The same videos and PowerPoint presentations developed specifically for a company now can be delivered more efficiently over the Internet rather than through classroom-only settings. An added bonus is that you can add digital images and photographs of each site or operation, allowing WBST to show examples of specific equipment and specific workstations. WBST can guarantee that each trainee will receive the same quality training as everyone else, resulting in a high level of standardization.

A training Web site can be designed to deliver a year's worth of training. Safety managers can dictate frequency of training for each employee category, and each site will determine the month for the training to be delivered. New hires and promotions receive the training as soon as appropriate. Standard training reports are generated to identify employees that are due to train at the beginning of each month. Training tasks designated to that month are automatically delivered to the trainee when he or she logs in. The benefit to having an annual training program mapped in such a way is that your job becomes that of a true manager of a system, not a bureaucratic paper pusher. Simply monitor the program and start using your found time to foster more safety awareness and behavioral safety initiatives.

By developing one Web site at one time, the model benefits all locations and departments. A point to be considered is how practical this is to growing organizations that are adding locations or departments all the time. Each new location simply needs access to the site, and the training can begin. Thus, development and deployment can be enhanced through WBST.

Limitations of Web-Based Training

WBT is not the end-all, be-all; it's not digitize or die. But in today's corporate environment with its emphasis on reducing costs and maximizing synergies, the Internet may be a powerful ally. There are some fairly stringent technology requirements that need to be in place, however, to utilize WBT and its interactive nature to its fullest capacity. For most WBT solutions, there is no need to install software applications on your network. You do need, however, a network with a fairly high-speed Internet connection and plenty of bandwidth to be able to perform such operations as downloading video files. Bandwidth becomes an issue primarily when streaming video, audio or downloading pictures comes into play. If a location does not have adequate bandwidth, however, such materials can be installed on a local server. This often requires the stamp of approval from an information-technology team.

Ensuring honest test results can be a thorny issue. Consider a scenario in which an initial test taker passes on the answers to later log-ons. For multiple-choice tests, a large bank of questions must be available for generation of alternate forms of the test, or some other control mechanism such as supervised testing must be in place. Essay questions may reduce the possibility of dishonesty resulting from asynchronous (any-time, any-place) test taking, but they compound the grading problem. The glib response may be that, "It doesn't matter as long as the trainee gets the right answers to the test." In fact, however, the credibility of a training program suffers if the results reflect "high performance" for the wrong reasons rather than genuine learning and knowledge structures that will be put into practice by the learners.

In addition, conversion to WBST requires top-management support and commitment to the use of technology to enhance safety and reduce costs. Very traditional corporate cultures that are intimated by technology and programs that vary from the norm can be challenging. The key there is to emphasize the opportunity that this innovative approach has by showing the company's return on investment and the enhanced benefits of WBST. Although WBST presently appears to be for the most innovative of organizations that understand and use Web technology, with increasing dependence on technology, this option is becoming a reality for more and more organizations.

Conclusion

A WBST program should be carefully evaluated in terms of organizational goals, safety and risk management objectives, training goals and technology direction. You may wish to seek a technology provider that will work with your organization to help you achieve your objectives. As with all training, be certain to keep your work force in mind while selecting a system. Ease of use is a priority to ensure that your workers will log on and learn. All things considered, this may be the most efficient and effective way to deliver a majority of your training, lower costs and reduce time while maintaining effective instruction. Go ahead -- let your safety program get wired.

Andrew J. Sorine, Ed.D., CSHM, is a professor of safety management at West Virginia University and director of the EHS e-Learning Center. In addition, he has been a safety consultant for industry, state and federal agencies, schools and legal firms. Sorine has authored numerous safety-related articles and delivered presentations at various professional meetings.

Richard T. Walls, Ph.D., CSHM, is a professor in the Educational Psychology program and the International Center for Disability Information at West Virginia University. He has received awards from WVU for his teaching and research. He often serves as an adjunct instructor for the National Emergency Training Center.

Robert W. Trinkleback, CSP, is corporate director of safety & risk management for Alliant Foodservice. He has more than 18 years of corporate safety and insurance experience and has worked for a number of world-class organizations. Trinkleback has a master's degree in safety management and has lectured at numerous professional safety meetings in the areas of OSHA, DOT and EPA regulatory compliance, designing workers' compensation and vehicle loss prevention programs, and risk management solutions.

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